2021 Information Technology Rules and Digital News Release

Publishers of digital information will now have to inform the government of their operations, set up self-regulatory bodies and apply a complaints mechanism, as well as follow codes that until now have only been applicable. to print and television news.

The Indian government’s new rules on intermediary liability and digital media code of ethics, 2021, notified on Thursday, will require digital news publishers to form a three-tier regulatory structure and form self-regulatory organizations. All online news portals will have to submit their contact details to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting within one month. “We do not require registration [through the portal], [instead we are] looking for information, ”I & B Minister Prakash Javadekar said at a press conference on Thursday.

Digital media platforms are not allowed to disseminate false information and rumors; media freedom is absolute but with reasonable restrictions, Javadekar said.

Digital news regulations in recent years have not involved any consultation process, starting with the 26% cap on FDI in digital media. Asked if the government will consult digital news platforms, Javadekar said, “We have no idea how many digital news publishers there are. Who do we even consult? When we get information [after the portal is set up], our doors are open. We welcome you all [to talk to us]. ”

The regulations, along with the current cap of 26% FDI in digital media, will increase regulatory compliance for the online news industry, which unlike traditional print publications does not have an established business model. The changes for digital news are part of a larger change in the Computing Act covering all online content, which is also leading to dramatic changes in the way internet intermediaries and video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video will be governed.

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“Publishers of digital media information would be required to adhere to the Journalistic Conduct Standards of the Press Council of India and the Program Code under the Cable TV Network Regulation Act, thereby providing a level playing field between offline (print, television) and digital media. The government said in its press release announcing the rules.

A draft 2021 regulation on information technologies (Guidelines for intermediaries and code of ethics for digital media) has been published by Internet Freedom Foundation Thursday. We have summarized below the key points of the published rules, as well as their differences from the disclosed project.

Who the rules apply to

The rules will apply to any person or entity that is a news and current affairs content publisher with a physical presence in India, and will be administered by the Department of I&B. A “news and current affairs publisher” includes an online newspaper, a news portal, a news aggregator and a news agency, as well as any other entity “functionally similar” to news and news publishers. ‘news; it will exclude e-papers from newspapers.

A news aggregator is an entity that makes available aggregated and organized news and current affairs content while “playing an important role in determining” the news and current affairs content made available.

Under the draft rules disclosed, the provisions also applied (with the exception of news publishers) to intermediaries mainly allowing the sharing of information and news, or even to those providing a “dedicated interface” or “part of its computer resources or services” for news sharing.

From now on, the rules specify the procedures to be followed to intervene with intermediaries to block certain content. For compliance with blocking requirements as well as change / delete orders under Rules 15 and 16, the Rules will also apply to Intermediaries.

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The rules shall not derogate from other applicable laws and remedies available under the 2009 computer blocking rules. The version disclosed indicates that these provisions are the guarantees and procedures referred to in Article 69A of the IT law.

Grievance redress

Anyone can complain to the publisher regarding the Code of Ethics. New online publications must respect:

  1. Standards of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India under the Press Council Act, 1978, and
  2. Program Code under Section 5 of the Cable Television Network Regulation Act 1995

In addition, no legally prohibited content will be published or transmitted. The rules prescribe a three-tier structure for the regulation of digital news publishers:

  1. Level I – at publisher level: Anyone can submit a complaint to the editor, for which the the publisher should appoint a redress mechanism and appoint a grievance officer residing in India. The agent will have to make a decision within 15 days. Each publisher must be a member of a self-regulatory body.
    • In the version disclosed, the ministry was to set up a central repository that would receive complaints. Complaints received independently by publishers had to be registered on the government portal.
  2. Level II – at the level of the self-regulatory body: Digital information companies will need to form a self-regulatory body, although they may be more than one, and which will be registered with the government. The body will be led by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, the High Court or a prominent person in the media, broadcasting, entertainment, children’s rights, human rights or any other relevant field. It can have six other members from these domains. The SRO can issue a warning, censor, reprimand a business, force it to issue an apology or a warning card. In cases where it considers action is necessary to prevent incitement to commission of public order offenses or for reasons under section 69A, the SRO may refer the matter to the Ministry. .
    • In the leaked draft, the presidency was limited to an SC or HC judge, who would be appointed by a government panel. The other six members were to be experts of the “media, broadcasting, technology and entertainment ”.
  3. Level III – government oversight by the I&B department: The ministry will publish a charter of SROs (including their codes of practice) and create a interministerial committee composed of representatives of MEITY, the I&B ministry, the ministries of Defense, External Affairs, Law, CERT-in, among others; this committee will be chaired by the authorized officer of the Department of I & B. It will also publish guidelines, notices, orders and instructions for compliance with the Code. This committee will meet periodically and hear complaints from level I and II appeals and those referred by the I&B department (the leaked project also allowed suo motu to collect complaints). The Committee may make recommendations to the Ministry concerning:
    1. warn, censor, reprimand a publisher, require a publisher to present an apology, warning card or disclaimer;
    2. remove or modify content to prevent “incitement to the commission of an offense against public order falling within the competence of knowledge”; Where
    3. recommend the need for action under section 69A.

For the latter two, an authorized officer (who will be an officer of the I&B department appointed by the department) will submit the case to the I&B secretary. The agent can order a publisher, any government agency, intermediary, to remove, modify or block the content. In the event of an “emergency”, the I&B secretary may issue such an order in the meantime.

Finally, the government establishes a review committee, which will review and record whether the freeze orders comply with section 69 (A). If it finds that this is not the case, it can set aside a restraint order.

All news and current affairs editors must notify government, submit contact details

Editors of news and current affairs content should inform the I & B Ministry of its contact details “by providing information as well as material that can be specified, for the purpose of enabling communication and coordination”. Existing publishers must submit this information within one month of notification of the rules (this deadline was reduced to 60 days in the disclosed draft).

Publishers should publish monthly compliance reports listing details of complaints received and actions taken. The I&B Ministry may ask publishers for additional information if necessary for the implementation of the rules.

The notified rules cast a wider net than the leaked draft, which imposed these requirements only on major social media intermediaries – that is, new publishers who have more than 500,000 subscribers or 5 million subscribers across the board. important social media intermediary.

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Regulation of digital information: a timeline

In August 2019, the Indian government limit foreign investment in digital media companies at 26%, which is the foreign ownership limit to which print media companies are subject. There was no restriction on foreign ownership before that. It was seen as a way to control digital media.

Shortly after, in November, the I&B department hosted a consultation for a law that will regulate print and digital media, and seeks to replace the Press and Book Registration Act (PRB), 1867. Press and Periodicals Registration Bill (RPP), 2019, however, did not define news, nor set target entities, but proposed mandatory registration of news publishers on digital media.

In October 2020, the government “clarified“That the cap would apply to digital media entities broadcasting or uploading news and current affairs to websites, apps; news agency which transmits information to digital media entities or news aggregators; and news aggregators who have curated news content from various sources on an app or website. The clarification showed the August 2019 policy change in its clearest light: a restriction on foreign funding of Indian online media.

On November 11, 2020, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was attributed authority on streaming platforms and online news, a change it has had reported in July. Within a week, the ministry announced that digital media had until October 15, 2021 to reduce their foreign investment to 26%. In addition, these companies had a month to share details of their foreign investors with the ministry.

Note: This article was updated at 1:00 p.m. IST on February 26 based on the Information Technology Rules (Intermediate Directives and Code of Ethics for Digital Media), 2021, notified in the Gazette on the evening of February 25 . Originally posted 5:00 p.m.:35 IST Feb 25.

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